A third of mini storages potential fire hazards
About a third of Hong Kong’s mini-storage outlets pose potential fire hazards, the government told the public on Thursday. This was after a citywide inter-departmental safety inspection following the deadly blaze in a mini-storage facility in East Kowloon in June.
Among 756 mini-storage facilities out of 885 identified in the city, 257 were found with violations including substandard passageways between blocks of storage cubicles, the heights of each room, blocked windows and insufficient fire facilities, according to an interdepartmental press briefing. All have been told to meet the required safety standards.
After the two-month inspection, some 1,200 warnings were issued to mini-storage operators to reconfigure cubicles. Fifty of these have been complied with. According to Terrance Tsang Wing-hung, deputy chief fire officer (fire safety), some businesses had to suspend operations to meet these standards.
The inspection follows the deadly fire in Ngau Tau Kok, which burned for more than 108 hours — one of the longest in Hong Kong history. Sadly, it claimed two firefighters’ lives. More than 200 locked storage cubicles made it difficult for the firemen getting to the affected floors. Many were found to contain inflammable and possibly toxic materials inside.
So far, no regulations specifically on mini-storage registration have been developed in Hong Kong. Relevant facilities are supervised under various ordinances on fire safety and building structures.
For instance, the Fire Services Ordinance stipulates the distance between cubicle blocks must not be shorter than 2.4 meters. This is in order to enable emergency evacuations. The height of a cubicle must not be higher than 2.35 meters, which gives space for ventilation above it. The storage area of a single unit must not be bigger than 50 square meters.
The Lands Department found 193 units in breach of the use prescribed in land lease provisions. It urged owners to change the land use to meet the stipulations within 28 days, said Patrick Leung Yun-hing, principal land executive (land control and lease enforcement) of the department.
The government will consider introducing new regulations to improve fire safety standards in old industrial buildings and to enhance the regulation of mini-storage facilities, accord- ing to the press briefing.
Lawmakers supported the government’s call. Legislator Aron Kwok Wai-keung said it is necessary to introduce licensing requirements on mini-storage outlets.
The Legislative Council needs to conduct a review of the current Fire Services Ordinance and stipulation regarding use of industrial building units soon, said Kwok.
Kwok also urged the government to set up a special committee to inspect the city’s ministorage facilities regularly. This is to ensure they meet the new safety requirements.
However, industry leaders voiced concerns. In a written response to the government’s inspections, Hong Kong Mini Storages Association said the industry found the government’s instructions “hard to implement in a short period of time”. Despite this, they have already taken several measures in strict accordance with them. Most operators would find it hard to survive under the government instructions, the association predicted.
The association also vowed to talk with the government about viable approaches to reconfigure mini-storage facilitates to meet these safety standards. In mid-January, it will inform the public about the upgrading of mini-storage facilities.
Thick smoke spews out from Amoycan Industrial Centre in the deadly Ngau Tau Kok blaze, which lasted 108 hours before being put out in Hong Kong, on June 23.